Advanced Military Radar to Track Disease-Bearing Mosquitoes


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Mosquitoes have claimed more human lives than all wars combined – their infectious bites still cause more than 1 million deaths each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

The insect plays host to a wide range of disease-bearing microorganisms, from malaria to newer viruses such as Zika. Controlling the pest is a major challenge, though, as they can come and go almost without a trace. Will a military technology solve this problem?

After decades of development, modern military radars can now pick up the echoes of small objects at an impressive distance. The US Missile Defence Agency’s sea-based X-band radar, for example, can detect a baseball-sized object from about 4,000km away.

China has recently developed radar systems with similarly advanced features to track missiles and stealth aircraft, but some scientists working on these military projects believed the technology could also be used to fight mosquitoes – and they convinced the government to fund their research. A prototype of the device is being tested at a defence laboratory at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT).

Scientists in other countries have used civilian radar networks to track the group movement of birds or larger insects such as locusts and moths, but this is believed to be the first attempt to use radars to monitor mosquitoes, according to   

The team, led by Long Teng, received funding of more than 82 million yuan (US$12.9 million) from the central government at the end of last year to build a full-sized mosquito detection radar that could be tested in the field.

The radar works by emitting rapid pulses of electromagnetic waves that travel at many frequencies, according to the scientist working on the project. When the radio waves hit a mosquito they bounce back with information including species, gender, flying speed and direction, and whether the insect has eaten. It could be mounted on a rooftop overlooking a residential community and used to pinpoint the position of major mosquito colonies, their breeding and resting areas.

The system uses the latest military radar technology. It has, for example, an advanced phased array antenna similar to those used on China’s latest warships. The antenna can beam microwaves in different directions at the same time and can detect missiles or military jets much faster than conventional radars that use a rotating dish.

It also has a separate antenna to generate radio waves oscillating in more than one direction, known as polarization.

A fast computer then uses an algorithm to simultaneously identify and follow the movement of many mosquitoes in the same community.